Rebecca Hall gives a searing, career-best performance in this haunting, profoundly sad film from Antonio Campos (Afterschool, Simon Killer), which probes the circumstances that drove a Florida TV news reporter to commit suicide by gunshot live on-air in 1974.
Christine Chubbuck (Hall) is a ferociously passionate news anchor who expresses an increasing level of frustration with her station chief, Michael (Tracy Letts), due to his persistent requests that she sensationalise her stories in order to boost the station’s dwindling ratings. Something of an eccentric among her colleagues (played by the likes of Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia and Timothy Simons), her inscrutable work ethic nevertheless hides recurrent mental health issues and a desperate desire to find happiness.
It’s a fascinating hook for a movie, no doubt, but Campos smartly avoids an exploitative treatment, instead exploring both the still-relevant realities of news reportage and the toxic potential of mental illness. With countless long takes, Campos lingers on Hall’s almost impossibly expressive face, saying more than words would ever need to.
It’s a psychodrama for sure, one that thankfully doesn’t need to over-speculate given the almost convenient amount of information that was known about Lubbuck’s mental state prior to her suicide. Some may see it as a fatal collision of stubborn passion and ambition or perhaps more simply a basic desire to be loved and accepted in the face of major rejection, but crucially the film doesn’t lock down one definitive answer, likely because there isn’t one, and because depression generally isn’t that tidy.
This all builds to a chilling finale that doesn’t flinch away from the culminating act, yet remains respectful and will leave viewers crestfallen rather than exhilarated. Perhaps that is the most surprising thing here, not that Chrisitine is a pin-sharp character study, but that it’s one of the most staggeringly tragic movies of the year. You need not have suffered as Lubbuck has to sympathise with her, and that just might be the film’s biggest win.
While it may not be particularly subtle throughout, especially with its critique of news media sensationalism, Christine nevertheless drips humanity out of its every pore, and Rebecca Hall gives a towering, Oscar-worthy performance that will unfortunately likely get snubbed.
Christine premieres at the London Film Festival on October 6th and hits US cinemas on October 14th